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FIFA 99 (N64) Review

Background Info

What a great time it is to be a video soccer fan. First, Konami released the fabulous International Superstar Soccer (ISS) 98, and now EA Sports have followed suit with the latest installment in their venerable FIFA series. It is truly an embarrassment of riches.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
Typical of EA's sports titles, FIFA 99 is strong on presentation. Both sides march onto the field in unison prior to the match and the captains shake hands with the referee. Teammates console one another when trailing at halftime and celebrate enthusiastically after goals.

The player models look fairly blocky when viewed up close, but animate very realistically. The uniforms look great and the players are unique in terms of height, weight, face, skin and hair color, designed to resemble their real-life counterparts.

The stadiums and pitches look smashing. The barriers that ring the sidelines are adorned with all manner of advertising, and the variety of textures and color used on the field give it a freshly manicured look. Portions of the pitch are blanketed in shadow during games played in the early evening and are indicative of the attention to detail that EA have given the graphics.

The game moves very smoothly during games played in fair weather, but there is some nasty slowdown when playing in the rain. The rain effect is so pronounced that there's just too much activity on the screen for the engine to keep pace. The game remains playable, but just barely. It definitely takes some time to adjust. On the plus side, the rain will subside and resume throughout the course of the game. A neat touch if only the rain didn't interfere with playability.

Presentation/Audio : 88
The music and audio in FIFA 99 are excellent. The game programmers have done a fine job in working around the limitations of the cartridge format to deliver a pretty impressive sound package. The crowd is boisterous and dynamic and the sound effects are convincing. Commentary is limited to a one-man booth but flows naturally and adds a nice backdrop to the action on the field without becoming annoyingly repetitive.

Interface/Options : 93
FIFA 99 presents an attractive and logical interface. Considering the number of modes and options available, the menus are well-designed, and largely intuitive. The main menu screen alone presents a staggering 10 possible selections (including a nifty training mode). The sub-menus, while chock full of options, are sensibly arranged and easily navigable. Nice work.

Gameplay : 96
Perhaps the greatest strength of FIFA 99 is its depth. This extends from its plays options to the number of moves available to the vast number of FIFA licensed teams and players that have been included.

Now that the World Cup has come and gone for another four years, EA have shifted the game's focus to league play. While it's still possible to play international cup tournament, there is no World Cup mode per se and there are no regional conference qualifying rounds. This will no doubt disappoint some fans (this one included), but EA have compensated by the sheer number of teams and modes of play that they've packed into FIFA 99.

Season play includes the ability to play in one of 12 national leagues each of which is made up of anywhere from 8 to 20 real-life teams and their players. There are 198 teams available in this mode alone! Not satisfied with playing through a season in the Belgian league? Not to worry, just sign on as one of the 20 top-flight sides in the European Dream League or participate in one of the stock Cup tournaments. Better still, structure you own cup tournament or league and work your way to the top with the team of your choosing. Did I mention that there are also 42 international squads to choose from? Whew!

FIFA 99 plays a satisfyingly realistic game of soccer. Analog control is well implemented allowing for smooth player movement and precise shot targeting and passing. However, unlike the excellent shock feedback employed in the Playstation version of the game, rumble pak support is conspicuously absent.

This is the most physical edition of FIFA yet. No longer are yellow or red cards flashed at the slightest sign of contact. Players are carded appropriately for blatant fouls (e.g. tackling from behind), but are left alone to play aggressive, hard-nosed football the rest of the time.

Control will be comfortably familiar to FIFA veterans, but remains a little daunting for novices. This is attributable to the vast number of moves the player has at their disposal. Basic moves like passing, shooting, and lobs are straightforward, but the more advanced moves are performed by various combinations of button taps and presses which can get quite complex. It's great that this level of control is available but, with so many moves in all, only the most persevering players will master them all to the point that they can be pulled off in the heat of battle. Add to this the degree to which formations, individual player positioning and strategies can be set and you have a game that is brimming with replay value. The only complaint I have about the control is that the controller functions can't be remapped. This would be a welcome option, but the more basic default controls become second nature soon enough.

Match length can be set to one of several pre-determined increments up to full 45 min. halves. The default is 4 mins., but I found that 6 mins. produced the most realistic results. A short match length has the added benefit of allowing you to play several games in a single sitting, making FIFA 99 a great choice to pop into the N64 when gaming time is limited. There is also an option to adjust game speed to one of four settings. It's nice to have the option, but the default slowest speed (Normal) will be plenty fast enough for most. Thankfully, it's a little slower than the Playstation version, although still a little on the fast side.

Ball physics are superb and result in kicks and headers that follow realistic trajectories in terms of height, angle, and distance. The ball is also more prone to remain in the field of play than in previous editions, and this results in fewer stoppages and throw-ins. The combined effect is a game that flows with convincing realism.

Difficulty : 97
FIFA 99 offers three levels of difficulty: Amateur, Professional, and World Class. Most gamers will have little trouble mastering the Amateur level and will quickly graduate to Professional. At this level, FIFA 99 plays an excellent game. While the Professional AI in the Playstation version was a tad TOO aggressive, here CPU opponents provide a little more time and space to move the ball. However, they will not allow you to dribble the ball all over the field at will; effective passing is a must. The opposition will challenge you with tackles and attack your defense. FIFA veterans will ultimately gravitate to the enhanced challenge of the World Class level where a solid grasp of the special moves are essential for success.

The AI on both sides of the ball in FIFA 99 is excellent. Players are well positioned, and the visual indicator that shows the position of off-screen players makes precision passes simple to execute. One of the beauties of FIFA 99 is that the games don't turn into shootouts. One of the main priorities for me in any sports game is realistic scores, and FIFA 99 delivers magnificently in this regard. The AI forces you to work for each and every shot, let alone goal. What a joy it is to play a game using 6 minute halves and have a 0-0 outcome and low shot count. Your mileage will almost certainly vary but, based on my current skills, the N64 version of FIFA 99 plays the most balanced game of any video soccer game out there - and that's saying something.

FIFA 99 features a nicely scaled learning curve. While the Amateur level will be way too easy for all but beginners, the Professional and World Class levels should be enough to keep most players challenged for a long time.

Overall : 93
FIFA 99 is a fine addition to an excellent series and a game with few glaring weaknesses. With superior graphics, depth and playability, it's a top-notch title through and through. So, with superb soccer games from EA Sports and Konami available for both the N64 and Playstation, which is the best of the bunch? You didn't REALLY think I was going to fall for answering that question, did you? I strongly encourage you to try as many of them as you are able. You're almost certain to find one that fits you like a glove. We should be so lucky in all of the other sports.

By: Pete Anderson 1/6/99

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